NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Although lives can be saved by smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, one-third of New Jerseyans live in homes without having all three of these life-saving devices, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health poll.
More than 400 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide (CO) exposure and thousands more are killed and injured in home fires. Yet, according to the Rutgers-Eagleton poll, only 65 percent of New Jerseyans have carbon monoxide dectors, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in their homes.
The poll found that nearly all New Jersey residents have smoke detectors but 14 percent say they do not have a carbon monoxide detector and another 25 percent say they don’t have a fire extinguisher available.
“While nearly every New Jersey home appears to have a smoke detector, we need to be at 100 percent for all three safety devices,” said William Halperin, chair of preventive medicine at New Jersey Medical School (NJMS). “Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers in every home would come close to eliminating the yearly parade of deaths and injuries from CO poisoning and fire.”
In New Jersey, hundreds go the emergency room year for carbon monoxide poisoning and on average, a fire breaks somewhere about every 20 minutes, notes Rutgers political scientist and poll Director David Redlawsk, who adds that since January 2014, the U.S. Fire Administration has identified media reports of 55 fire fatalities here.
The poll, a collaboration between the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (home of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll) and NJMS, also finds that about 90 percent of those who have CO and smoke detectors tested them at least once during the past year. Only 61 percent of those with fire extinguishers gave them a safety check during the last 12 months.
“Today’s results are another example of how our new partnership will allow us to get a better handle on health and safety in New Jersey,” said Redlawsk. Halperin, of NJMS, added, “The more we can learn about the perceptions and reality of public health in New Jersey the better job we will be able to do.”
Results of the inaugural poll are from a statewide sample of 871 New Jerseyans contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 28 to Aug. 5, 2014, with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.
Homes using natural gas or oil both need carbon monoxide detectorsThe presence of CO detectors is especially important in homes that have systems fueled by natural gas or oil; 72 percent of respondents report gas-fueled water heaters, and 67 percent have gas-powered home heating systems. Another 11 percent report using oil burners. “The first line of defense against carbon monoxide poisoning and fires is to have heating and hot water systems checked periodically by a professional,” said Halperin. “But, just as important is having working smoke and CO detectors. Those who don’t are gambling with their lives, and some lose every year.”
The poll finds there is little difference in the likelihood of having all three safety devices regardless of whether homes here are fueled by gas, electricity or oil. Slightly more (89 percent) residents with gas-fueled homes report having a CO detector than those that use electricity (80 percent). Respondents with homes fueled by natural gas also are more likely to have checked their carbon monoxide detector within the past year than those reliant on electricity: 90 percent versus 77 percent.
But the 20 percent of homes with electric water heaters and 17 percent with electric heat are not off the hook, according to NJMS’s Halperin. “Even a small disparity between those with gas or oil and electric heat should not exist,” he said. “All-electric homes should still have carbon monoxide monitors since people have been poisoned by parking their cars and forgetting to turn them off. A CO detector greatly lessens the chance of a fatal mistake.”
How a home is heated does not seem to influence the likelihood of checking available fire extinguishers or smoke detectors, the poll also finds.
The demographics of safety device ownership
While ownership of these home safety devices is relatively high among Garden State residents, there are noteworthy demographic differences. Millennials lag behind older cohorts for all three items. Those ages 18 to 29 are less likely to have and check their CO detectors compared to older residents. While just as likely to have smoke detectors as others, younger residents are slightly less likely to have checked them in the past year. Millennials also are less likely to have fire extinguishers, but those who do are nearly as likely to check them as older New Jerseyans. But the millennials are up to 20 points less likely to report having all three devices in their homes.
Differences by income also are noticeable. Those in households making $150,000 or more are a few points more likely to have and to check a CO detector. Those in the two top income brackets are also more likely to have fire extinguishers, yet are far less likely than those in the lowest bracket to have tested them in the last year. But they also are as much as 15 points more likely to have the full set of protective devices in their homes compared to those with lower incomes.
There are some small differences in protective device ownership by region, Redlawsk observed. Exurbanites are slightly more likely to have carbon monoxide detectors. Those living in exurban counties and in the southern part of the state near Philadelphia are most likely to have fire extinguishers, though they are least likely to check them.
White residents are 12 points more likely to say they own fire extinguishers than non-whites and also are also more likely than non-whites to have all three safety devices (69 percent to 57 percent).
While there are no differences in device ownership between those households with children and those without, childless households are slightly more likely to check their fire extinguishers.
“Many of these differences come back to economic status,” said Redlawsk. “In general, those with more resources are more likely to have all three devices. But smoke detectors have become ubiquitous due to building codes and education, so we see no differences there.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, Poll Director David Redlawsk may be contacted at 319-400-1134 (cell), 732-932-9384, ext. 285 (office), or firstname.lastname@example.org. Professors William Halperin or Marian Passannante of NJMS may be contacted at 973-972-4422. Visit our blog at http://eagletonpollblog.wordpress.com for additional commentary. Follow the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RutgersEagletonPoll and Twitter @EagletonPoll.